The majority of car accident cases are resolved in a settlement rather than with a decision by a judge or jury, which gives both parties involved control over the outcome of the case. In California, California Rules of the Court Rule 3.1380 requires that you and the opposing party participate in one or more settlement conferences before your case can proceed to trial.
Settling Out of Court
Car accident settlements usually do not exceed the car insurance maximums of the at-fault driver. But if you were seriously injured, you or your attorney should ensure that your settlement awards you sufficient money to compensate you for past and future medical bills, pain and suffering, car repairs, lost wages due to time away from work, any required at-home care, and even a loss of consortium—which is a loss of the benefits of a familial relationship, whether it be marital or parental. California law acknowledges that the spouses and registered domestic partners of a personal injury claim victim suffer losses as well, and are entitled to monetary compensation. (Loss of consortium claims are usually initiated by the uninjured spouse, who may be able to join the lawsuit of the injured spouse).
Settlement talks are initiated by drafting and sending a demand letter to the other party involved. A demand letter is the standard way of settling an injury claim before going to court.
You’ll need to perform detailed evidence-gathering before you compose the letter, like requesting medical records from the provider if you received medical treatment, requesting your employment records—if you missed work—outlining your typical hours and salary before your injury, and any time missed as a result of it. You’ll also need to gather any evidence of the liability of the other party.
After your information is gathered you’ll need to write a clear and concise demand letter that lists dates (in chronological order) and detailed descriptions of each important event related to your injury (including what happened, witnesses, and other salient information). You should include important medical records with the letter and note the exact amount of money you spent on medical treatment. Next, you’ll mail the demand letter to the party involved, or his or her attorney or insurance company.
The next step is usually settlement talks. However, if you don’t get a response to your letter, or if the settlement offer from the insurance company is unreasonable or too low, settlement may not be possible or advisable. You may file a lawsuit, at which point the fate of the case will be left in the hands of a judge or jury.
Filing a Formal Suit
First, your lawyer will file your lawsuit in court by composing a formal legal complaint and submitting it to the appropriate court. The complaint is served on the other driver, the defendant, using a process server or a law enforcement officer. The defendant will have a set amount of time to answer the complaint, typically a time frame of 20 days.
Next is the discovery process during which your lawyer will request information from the defendant and he or she will request info from you. Information can be obtained from the defendant by submitting written questions called interrogatories, and you can request that the defendant produce documentation to you. You can also schedule a deposition in which individuals are compelled to appear at a specific place and time to provide a testimony that is recorded and may be used in court.
Trial is the final step of a car accident lawsuit, during which a judge or jury will consider the evidence and render a verdict.
Although you have filed a lawsuit you have not forfeited your ability to settle. Throughout the proceedings of your court case, and any time before a verdict is rendered, you and your attorney can settle your case if you receive an offer that is agreeable.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About a Lawsuit?
If you’re not sure whether you can sue someone – either an individual or a business – it’s always okay to call a personal injury attorney to find out. We’re available when you need us; just call 818-230-8380.